The death of a young woman in Sierra Leone, almost immediately after undergoing female genital mutilation, sparked outrage and rekindled calls to end the practice.
the body of Maseray Sei, 21 was found on December 20 in the village of Nyandeni, Bonthe district, southern Sierra Leone, a day after the female genital mutilation. Sei’s family said that after the procedure, the mother-of-two complained of a migraine and suffered from pain, complications from FGM that are believed to be the cause, according to activists working on the case.
The family is now pushing for an autopsy. Sei’s body was found in a ‘Bondo bush’, the compound of a house belonging to the centuries-old Bondo Secret Women’s Society, common in largely rural Sierra Leone, where FGM often takes place.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world, with nine in 10 women and girls aged 15 to 49 affected, according to Unicef. Despite restrictions placed on secret societies since the Ebola epidemic in 2014, and particularly on their initiation rites, of which FGM is often a part, the practice remains legal in Sierra Leone, with politicians accused of having done so. statements supporting FGM and funding Bondo homes.
Societies are important cultural institutions, rooted in ancient rituals meant to protect communities from harm and guide adolescent girls towards femininity.
After Sei’s death, the police arrested a number of know – members of high society who practice excision in FGM – as well as a village chief from the district of Bonthe, responsible for regulating secret societies.
Rugiatu Turay, activist and former deputy minister for gender equality in Sierra Leone, said the case was another shocking example of FGM’s toll on women.
“This is a tragic case and in a way shows how many people like her have died or are suffering, as the majority of cases go unreported,” she said.
Turay chairs a coalition of 21 national groups fight against FGM which is now pressuring the authorities to carry out an autopsy.
“This is the next important step for us to seek clarification in this matter,” she said.
Senesie Amara, an activist working with Sei’s family, said relatives said she was in good health the day before the FGM.
“She went to fetch wood and water for her aunt, she was physically fine on December 18th. That night, she slept at the Bondo house, and that’s when things went wrong, ”Amara said.
“For the family, it’s very shocking. They loved him.
Sei was the mother of a four-year-old and six-month-old baby, and was still in high school due to starting school late and repeating many years, Amara said, describing how, despite her challenges, she fought for a better life. for her and her sons.
But community pressure to undergo FGM increased after she had her second child. “She went to see her uncle on the 11th of this month and told him that she wanted to join the Bondo company. He said he had no money to give him, that he was working on renovating the family home. She then went to see her boyfriend. He gave her 200,000 leones [£13]”said Amara.
Bondo companies have gone through many changes, Turay said, but FGM remains a central and dangerous practice.
“While in government, I pressed for Sierra Leone to have a national strategy to end FGM, but it met with resistance,” she said. “Over the years a lot has changed within the Bondo culture, and our organization is examining how we can build on the best aspects of our culture, where women can be trained and empowered.”
After Sei’s death, social media videos showing politicians in Sierra Leone pledging to protect FGM practices were condemned by activists.
Gender equality charity Equality Now said last week: “We strongly condemn the actions of politicians supporting FGM and urge the government to prosecute all offenders putting women and girls at risk.